Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bridging the Trump Gap

Inhale. Exhale. Disengage. Re-engage. Try to figure it all out. Just forget it and move on. Try to be positive. But I can't.

After Tuesday night's election, where Donald Trump was elected as the next President of the United States, I was thrust into a state of grief, hopelessness and devastation I haven't felt in awhile. I cried alone Tuesday night. I cried Wednesday with my colleagues and co-workers. And we cried not simply for the loss of Hillary, but for the loss of our faith in humanity. Eventually my depression subsided, but as I watched the surge in hate crimes around America, I became afraid. And now, as I see more and more people supporting Trump, glossing over the "fine details", and ignoring the impact that his election has had on the social climate around us is simply pissing me off. And to process these feelings, I must blog.

Now I recognize that there are varying degrees of support for Trump: some people (like the KKK) are blatant racists who identified with the candidate who systematically attacked every non-white ethnic group from Hispanics to Middle Easterners, from Blacks to Asians. Some people (like right wing Christians) are not at all racist, but they identified with the man who swore to abolish abortion and overturn the Supreme Court ruling of Marriage Equality because he aligned with their religious beliefs. Some people are none of those things, but they are still feeling the after effects of 9/11 and are facing the very real dangers of terrorism in an ISIS world.So they identified with a self-proclaimed leader who has promised to ban potentially dangerous Muslims and refugees because they are scared and need to feel safe somehow.

Others on the other hand are not at all racist, heterosexist (this is the more appropriate term beyond homophobic), or misogynistic, and they're not against refugees or Muslims. These are the people who simply agreed with Trump's actual campaign and platform about changing the welfare state, securing gun rights, creating more jobs, reforming socialized medical care, etc. Now I highly doubt that there has ever been a political candidate that anyone has agreed with 100%. There are always issues that we don't necessarily care for, there are usually topics which we find ourselves on the exact opposite side of the debate, and often times there are presented solutions that are not as powerful or effective as we would like them to be. But we prioritize the issues that are most important to us, and use this as our guiding compass to determine which candidate will help the country become the home we want it to be.

Unfortunately many people don't seem to prioritize racism, sexism, heterosexism, and sexual assault as bigger issues. As one person said when I was debating over the precarious Trump campaign on Facebook, "we need to agree to disagree on the fine details and recognize that we agree on the major points." The fine details. So suddenly these extremely perilous social illnesses are minute details in the greater scheme of the race to become the most powerful leader in the world. For those who glossed over the fine details and voted for Trump, what they don't understand is whether or not they agreed with the racism, the sexism, the heterosexism, and the sexual assault, they voted for a man who represented these things.

Now he's president. It's a catastrophe that...ahem...trumps the debacle of Brexit in the UK and our future is dreary and uncertain. But the difference between us and Brexit is the morning after their vote, most Brits realized they made a mistake. Most people, steeped in regret, begged for another chance to vote. And they now cling to hope that as Parliament reviews the decision, the vote will not be honored. Here, many people have cheered, many people have celebrated, no one has uttered a single "my god what have we done?" Trump supporters are arguing, justifying, and ignoring in the worst case of confirmation bias I have ever seen. Many refuse to discuss the hate-filled rants that made Trump notorious throughout the world. Others acknowledge their existence only to refute it, blaming the media for making Trump look bad with doctored videos, edited sound bites, and fabricated quotes, even though the evidence is there in front of them. Some people have pleaded with us to "find the good in him" and give him a chance. While he may have had a few positive moments worth highlighting during his campaign, Trump's escalating derogatory comments against minorities often eclipsed any good deeds, and this was no one's fault but his own. In the end, he made it very clear that today's colorful America was not the America he planned to maintain. And now our society is falling apart at the seams.

Hate crimes are rising. More and more reports are flowing in all over the nation of people attacking minorities and many of us do not feel safe walking down the streets. Adult men are grabbing Muslim women's hijabs off their heads, throwing them to the ground, telling other women they are going to grab them by the pussy, and actually trying to. White men are beating black men and gays. The KKK is throwing a celebratory march for Trump's victory, and came out in droves yesterday in Anaheim, California to battle the anti-Trump protests. Children are chanting "build that wall" in lunchrooms, driving Latino youth to tears. One high-schooler created homemade Deportation notices and handed them out to everyone in his school who looked even remotely Hispanic. Someone hanged a black baby doll in a college university. A friend of mine told me she witnessed a hate crime sitting outside a restaurant in Long Beach, where a white man told an Asian man to "pack [his] bags, because [his] time in this country is limited." Following Brexit, another vote saturated in xenophobia, hate crimes rose by 60% and are continuing in spite of the time that has passed. This is our future. With his demonizing, divisive speeches, our President-elect has created an atmosphere where people feel it is okay to perpetuate these acts of violence and hatred, and we're terrified of it. But Trump supporters refuse to acknowledge it. They don't mention it and won't denounce it. Trump finally did, in an interview with 60 Minutes he gave a very effective "stop it."

They also refuse to acknowledge the very real threats Trump/Pence poses to minorities with promises to overturn Marriage Equality and stop any protective measures for LGBTs, promises to kick out refugees and refuse to provide them a safe haven from their war torn countries, promises to bring back torture tactics in the military, ending environment protection, and defund planned parenthood (which is mostly HIV treatments, contraception, and cancer screenings, far beyond the small percentage of abortions).

I can't count how many times I have heard that we are acting like babies, throwing tantrums, whining like children because we didn't win the game. Others maintain that we should respect other peoples' opinions, that we need to learn to agree to disagree. Many say that we are being uncooperative and we need to learn to unite and work together for our country. So how do we bridge the gap?

First of all, let me tell you, there is not and never will be an "Agree to Disagree" on racism, sexism, heterosexism, or sexual assault. There is no gray area, no common ground where we should compromise on these issues. But if we agree that not all of you who voted for Trump are racist, misogynistic, heterosexist, or rapists, you must acknowledge that Trump has made very racist, misogynistic, heterosexist comments that are not okay, and you cannot pretend that he did not admit to sexually assaulting women. Secondly if we agree that not all of you are going to attack us or rob us of our rights, you cannot disregard or dismiss that we minorities are being threatened and attacked by other Trump supporters and by Trump's own promises to degrade and devalue us as human beings. You cannot mock us for feeling unsafe just because the violence and future laws don't impact you. Thirdly, if you think we are overreacting or panicking needlessly, you can laugh skeptically and assure us that nothing bad is going to happen, but you must promise to stand with us if we are being attacked in the community or if our basic rights are going to be threatened by some law or Supreme Court ruling in the future.

This is the beginning of this compromise. Refusal to acknowledge these basic truths is a refusal to begin the conversation. If we listen to you, you must listen to us, support us, and stand with us. Then and only then can we converse, problem-solve, and unite.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Darkness Beyond The Donald

I was sitting with my supervisor in the lunchroom at work today, and of course the conversation inevitably steered towards the upcoming election, as I'm sure it has for so many others 'round the water cooler for the past year since Donald Trump announced he was running for President. We sighed in utter exhaustion over the psychological battering we've endured from the media, especially in the past few months as the race has heated up and the scandals have forged a colossal blaze that would put the bowels of Hell to shame. We set our weary eyes to the rapidly approaching finale to this nightmare, November 8th, election day. Like so many others, we can't wait for this circus to be over. But as I settled back into my office alone, I realized that it is not that simple, that win or lose, this nightmare will not end once the final ballot is cast and counted. The presence of Trump has changed the face of America, and this election has propelled us into a darkness we cannot easily rebound from, because Trump was never the problem to begin with.

When Trump first announced his intention to run for president, I rolled my eyes as I'm sure many did, expecting this to be a publicity stunt for his TV programs, an upcoming project, or just a desperate attempt to stay relevant. As the election carried on and Trump gained momentum, I continued to cling to hope that he would announce his resignation from the run and we would all have a good laugh at the absurdity of this self-righteous silk-stocking seeking any position in our governmental system. But the announcement never came. Instead, we were pummeled with rage-filled tirades promoting violence toward the opposition, eliciting riots and assaults. This quickly escalated to sexist and racist rants, leaving no demographic untouched and none of us were safe from his degradation unless you were a rich, straight, white, Christian male. As the Donald became more and more of a loose cannon and the GOP slowly realized they were losing control, the Republican party began to back away from their elected candidate. Many withdrew their support, some even demanded that runner-up Ted Cruz be passed the torch for the election. But the catalyst came when a tape from Trump's past was exhumed and the GOP world collapsed.

Just before a scheduled television debate with Hillary Clinton, a 2005 audio interview with TV personality Billy Bush hit the internet. In the midst of what Trump would soon write off as locker room talk, the boys bantered about women, and Trump gave horrifying details of how he slayed the ladies, including forcibly kissing them and grabbing their genitals. Following the release of these tapes, tens of women came forward to give their own account of assault and harassment they have endured from Trump. Like drowning rats trying to escape a sinking ship, the GOP exploded, but it was too late. They had missed the deadline to recant their nominee; the ballots had been printed and sent out, and some absentee votes had already been cast. They were stuck with him, and thus, so are we.

With his radicalized spouting, his comments supporting the Japanese internment camps, the vows to "make America great again" that were followed by the abolition of several cultural and religious groups, it was all too easy for people to draw parallels between Trump and dictator Adolf Hitler. After rising to power in the 1930s, Hitler was eventually responsible for the deaths of millions of innocents, including Jews, blacks, Indians, Muslims and other non-Christians, homosexuals, and psychologically and physically disabled Europeans. Many have fired off warnings about the potential for historic repetition if Trump is elected, fearful of whatever ethnic cleansing would follow. But as I look back at the past year and the campaign trail Trump has traveled, he is not the one we should be afraid of, he's not the one that frightens me.

It's true that Trump bought his way into the running. The billionaire's net worth circles around $3.7 and with that kind of cold cash sitting in the bank (or is it in a tower like Scrooge McDuck's?), it's not hard to finance your own campaign. He had more rich friends who secured his first few months on the trail and helped his popularity for a time, but as Trump became angrier, as he spoke louder, as he lied, denied, and repeated his slogan without any substantial statements or clear plans to make anything great, he appealed to the masses. Granted, many of the masses were inbred rednecks with a 6th grade education, but there are a hell of a lot of them in America. The others are people who are scared or angry and horribly misinformed. Feeding off the fears and suspicion that the right-wing media has fueled through the years, Americans were led to believe that the problems they face were the fault of dangerous minorities. If you're scared, it's because of the terrorist Muslims and the criminals who migrate illegally across the border. If you're poor, blame the mooching minorities on welfare. If you're suffering in any way, blame the sins of free-loving homosexuals, bleeding emotional aborting women, and overzealous comb-overs (did you think you'd get through a Trump blog without a hair joke?). Trump latched on to these stereotypes and swore to exorcise America of these foul demons that plague our society. With these fears comfortably stoked, Trump was able to use this ace in the hole to strengthen his popularity and carry him through to the GOP nomination. And in spite of the outrageous statements, the sexual assault, the lies, the tax evasion, the support has continued to grow for him in greater America. This is what terrifies me.

When Hitler first composed Mein Kampf and began to gain support, he too fed off this Us vs. Them mentality. Wounded and weakened from the loss of World War I, the pride of the country suffered, and so did its people as many were struggling: destitute, hopeless, and hungry. Seeking a scapegoat, Hitler set his eyes on the Jews, though to this day, I'm not sure why he initially chose them. Drawing from beliefs that had been ingrained in European thought for years, Hitler told the Germans that their desolate plight was because of this dark-haired studious population. He continued to circulate rumors that the Jews had sabotaged the military efforts and contributed to the fall of the German government, that they were richer than others because they stole and embezzled money, and that they were weakening the country from within like a parasite because they didn't share the patriotic views of the Aryan race (sound familiar?). Eventually he expanded his hatred to every culture that didn't fit the bill of tall, blonde, blue-eyed, heterosexual Christians. The people ate this rhetoric up, and the rest is history.

The one similarity that rings all too true in these two stories is that these men did not deserve to succeed, they did not earn their success, and they did not succeed on their own. They only succeeded because they were allowed to. A dangerous man is only as powerful as the people who follow him. Hitler only rose to power because enough people bought into his bullshit. Trump has only come this far because people agree with his nonsensical ranting and his sniveling grade school retorts. With all his racism, sexism, and incoherence, he has garnered 42% of America's support. Forty two percent of Americans agree with this carrot-hued ape because he feeds off of and fuels the fear and anger Americans already had, and the reality is, Trump is and would be nothing without them. Americans have created a social and political climate in which ideas like his can thrive; America has made Trump great. I see their defenses on Facebook, I see their protests and their tailgating rallies on TV (presumably recorded before they begin crushing beer cans on their heads and head off to Wally World for another 24 pack), and I can't wrap my head around it all. But as one so eloquently put it, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, and these stupid people are the substance of my nightmares, my deepest fears for the future of America.

The dark side of America has re-emerged, the animosity has saturated the land. While Trump may have awoken this sleeping giant, the racism and sexism we hoped was dissipating has been lingering in the shadows so quietly, like the glowing embers of a dying fire that was never quite extinguished. Though Donald has fanned the flames back to life, the hatred and ignorance has burned within the hearts of his supporters long before he hit the campaign trail, and win or lose, they will be there long after November 8th. With America so deeply divided, how can we bridge the gap when the dust settles and the anger subsides? Will it subside? Like that horribly awkward moment when a friend accidentally lets a racist or homophobic comment slip and you realize the friendship is over, how can we learn to function with the 42% who were ready to elect this genetic defect as our Commander in Chief?

I used to find comfort in my belief that Trump will lose next week and he will fade away, hopefully never to be heard from again, but I now realize that the darkness that consumes his supporters, the darkness that fueled his success over the past year, is alive and well, and the brush fire that has begun is showing no sign of receding. Darker days are coming, my fellow Americans, and this is not Trump's America, this was our America all along.